Ask A-dec about… Ergonomics

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Nick Olive CEAS – Territory Manager, Middle East & Egypt, A-dec 

An astounding 87% of dentists suffer from back pain while working (Ball, 2015).

As dental professionals it isn’t just our backs we need to worry about – musculoskeletal disorders including back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as fatigue are all commonplace within the industry. 

We all know that we should consider ergonomics and proper posture while working, but what do we mean by ‘good ergonomics’ and ‘good posture’ and what are the route causes of the issues so many of us face while working as dentists? 

The word ergonomics is derived from the Greek works ‘ergon’ (work or labor) and ‘nomos’ (natural laws). Ergonomics is the study of people efficiency in their working environment (Oxford, 2021). 

To work with good ergonomics is to be efficient in our working environment and expend the least amount of energy to achieve the same result. In dentistry this means reducing the strain on our bodies while working. 

The topic of ergonomics in dentistry is wide and varied. Here we discuss one of the primary causes of pain experienced by dental professions. 

Managing your head can help

The average human head weights 5kg (GW Osteopathy, 2021). When delivering an ergonomic assessment, we undertake exercises using a 5kg medicine ball. Try to find one, or a similar item weighing 5kg and experience how heavy this weight feels.  When you have this weight in your hands it is hard to imagine that we walk around all day with this weight on top of our shoulders. Notice when you hold this weight the natural position you adapt to hold the weight. You will hold the weight close to your body. You probably wouldn’t be comfortable holding 5kg outstretched from your core or indeed holding this weight anywhere for a prolonged period. 

Now try resting the 5kg weight on your shoulders and standing in a neutral position. With the weight now going through your body into your feet. You will probably feel like you could hold the weight there for much longer. 

Our bodies are designed to cope with the weight of our head and the best way for us to manage this is to support the weight through our core, into our legs and feet and into the ground below us. 

When the weight of our head is held away from the center of our body in front of us we will experience pain in our neck and upper back. Where the weight of our head is transferred through our body but not into our legs and feet, we will begin to experience pain in our lower pack. 

Reduce neck angle 

The pressure from the weight on our spine and supporting neck and back muscles increases exponentially as our head is tilted away from our body. 

We can help to reduce this tendency to tilt our heads forward by wearing loupes and correctly positioning our stool with legs under the patients head which encourages a more upright head position. 

Patient position…

It is important to correctly position patients by fully utilizing a dual articulating head rest on your patient chair.

Adjusting the position of a patient’s head can offer increased patient comfort by properly supporting the weight of the head, whilst opening the oral cavity and providing the best possible view to your working area. 

Your patient should be seated fully back against the back rest of your dental chair before moving into a treatment position, to make adjustments easier. You can encourage patients to adapt this position by presenting the headrest in the fully up position before they enter.

Take a seat… 

A properly adjusted dental stool offering a positive tilt, to transfer some of the weight from your head and body through your legs and feet to the ground can make a huge difference to your health. This will also give you the optimum working height to clearly see your working area without tilting your head excessively. 

In a healthy, dynamic seated position your hips will be positioned above your knees with a tilted seat encouraging weight transfer into your feet. 

From a dynamic seated position which may be higher than you are used to working, you can adjust your patient chair to allow you to get as close as possible to your patient. Ideally your patient chair will have a thin backrest to allow you to position your legs under the patient and keep your head above your shoulders. 

With your head positioned above your body, weight transferred to your feet by seating correctly and positioning your patient to allow direct vision into the oral cavity, you can effectively reduce strain on your neck, shoulders and back. 

About the Author

Nick has a passion for dental ergonomics and is certified by The Back School in the USA. Nick offers free dental ergonomic workshops both in person and online. 

Graphic Reference: The Guardian / Source: Surgical Technology International 


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